Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Tria is a favorite haunt of mine, a reliable, consistent bar/restaurant in a great location. The menu focuses on three things -- cheese, wine, and beer, offering other items that complement these "staples." The pretentiousness quotient is surprisingly low, given the hip looks of the staff and the number of wines, beers and cheeses that I have never heard of, much less understand. In fact, the staff manages to be friendly and helpful, which is appreciated given the advice they need to provide.

Tria is also great because you can order (and simultaneously sit at a table) appetizers and drinks, just as easily as dinner. The appetizers, which change frequently but tend to include things like "warm poached black mission figs with gorgonzola and prosciutto di parma," are interesting and substantive. Items like "spiced almonds" and "parmesan olive oil potato chips" are priced at $2.50, and no appetizer -- or any dish, for that matter -- is over $10.

Tria offers a variety of bruschetta and panini, also good compliments to the beer and wine list. Of all the sandwiches (and I've tried most of them), I love the grilled cheese -- "three cheese & tomato panino with fontina, grana padano and goat cheese." The sandwiches are served with fresh greens, tossed in a light dressing with kosher salt. I have come to crave this sandwich and it ranks among the all time best grilled cheeses I've had. I also know people who crave the nutella panino, which is, in fact, as good as it sounds.

The wine, beer and cheese menus manage to convey a sense of humor, categorizing wines from "zippy whites" to "lighthearted reds" and beers from "invigorating" to "extreme." It's hard to go wrong with the cheeses, which are served with a taste accompaniment like honey, or nuts, along with bread, that are selected to highlight the particular cheese. Somehow, the descriptions work, at least for me, and are more clear than regional divisions or more traditional descriptors. I enjoyed a beer last night, a Tripel Karmeliet, that tasted unlike anything I've had before, with strong caramel and a rich bitterness in a lightly colored beer. It was listed under the heading, "profound." If only...

Tria is located at the corner of 18th and Sansom Streets, Philadelphia, Pa., photo thanks to http://www.triacafe.com/.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


The Toughest Table in America
The country's hardest-to-get reservation isn't in New York or Los Angeles. Call Talula's Table, in Pennsylvania horse country, to dine in 2009.

By Franz Lidz, Conde Nast Portfolio

It's 6 a.m. on a February morning in the flyspeck town of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, and the wind swoops down State Street like a bird of prey, carrying the snow along with it. Outside Talula's Table, Daniel Kirkpatrick waits, hoping to beat the 7 a.m. opening of the restaurant's phone reservation line.

“My parents paid me $30 to stand out here and reserve a table,” says Kirkpatrick, a Colorado teenager on vacation with his family. “Sounds crazy, but they told me to come back every morning until there was an opening.”

By day, Talula's [http://www.talulastable.com], 35 miles from Philadelphia, is a prepared-food shop that sells everything from artisan cheeses and duck rillettes to grilled quail and lobster pot pies. At night, it turns into a B.Y.O.B. restaurant serving eight-course feasts assembled as meticulously as a cabinetmaker constructs a fine piece of furniture.

Regulars joke that it's easier to score dinner at Per Se in Manhattan or the French Laundry in Napa Valley than it is to snag “the table”-Talula's seats eight to 12 people at its longleaf pine table each night. And they're right: Per Se and the French Laundry accept reservations two months out. As of September 1, 2007, Talula's was booked through July 31, 2008, and had stopped taking inquiries. At 7 a.m. on January 2, the restaurant began accepting reservations for the rest of the year. By 9 a.m., every night was full. Talula's now has a rolling system, taking reservations a year ahead to the numerical date. Which is why hopefuls from as far off as the Rockies stand vigil at dawn.

Plenty of restaurants are hard to get into -a handful of websites now sell reservations at hot New York spots- but small, out-of-the-way places rarely see this much demand. Talula's single table has caused a feeding frenzy among foodies, who are thrilled to pay $90 a head for the tasting menu and cheese board. [AUTHOR'S NOTE: Per Se's tasting menu is priced at $250.]

Talula's is an unpretentious storefront in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania's horse country, sausaged between Picone Beauty & Wellness and the Half-Moon Saloon, where a Yuengling draught is $3.25 during happy hour.

Yet diners have included chefs, writers, tycoons, musicians, mushroom farmers, plastic surgeons, and actors. John Turturro traveled down from Brooklyn with his wife, Kathie Borowitz, on Valentine's Day; a friend had praised Talula's food so lavishly that Turturro had to see for himself.

“I was a little dubious at first, but the dinner surpassed my highest expectations,” Turturro said after a banquet of egg custard with Jonah crab, exotic mushroom risotto, snails in rigatoni farci, roast pompano, osso buco and house-smoked bacon, lamb and wildflower honey, and an array of winter blue cheeses in their creamy prime. “Each dish was a separate love affair,” Turturro said. “It was the kind of a meal you'd request before your execution.”

Talula's cuisine is prepared by Bryan Sikora, a 38-year-old Culinary Institute of America graduate who apprenticed under Nora Pouillon at Nora's, the eminent all-organic bistro in Washington. A kind of John Coltrane of the kitchen, he improvises with textures and flavors, making unexpected combinations work with disconcerting justesse.

Most chefs vary their menus as infrequently as Congress amends the Constitution. Sikora changes his fare every six weeks to reflect the seasons and his expanding cadre of local growers and producers.

He grew up in Pennsylvania coal country, where Rolling Rock flowed freely, but fresh food was scarce. “I got interested in cooking because I was always hungry,” Sikora says. He became a CIA operative after dropping out of the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. (His sketch of a headstrong child overturning a table has become Talula's logo).

Sikora met Aimee Olexy, his wife and business partner, in 1992 at a hotel in Boulder, Colorado. He was the head chef; she ran the operation. A restaurant worker since age 13, Olexy skipped much of 10th grade to sell bagels with sprouts and scrambled eggs at Grateful Dead concerts. She dropped out of high school at 16, got her GED, enrolled at St. Joseph's University at 17 and graduated summa cum laude with a degree in classical literature.

Together, the pair worked at inns and cafes in Denver; Eugene, Oregon; and Cape Cod before settling in Philadelphia and signing on with Stephen Starr, the city's high-concept restaurateur. While Olexy managed Starr's empire, Sikora presided over the galley at Starr's Moroccan outpost, Tangerine.

In 2001, they quit the Starr system. With a government loan of $45,000 and little more than mountain bikes for collateral, they opened Django, a boutique restaurant in Society Hill, pioneering Philly's renaissance in chef-run, B.Y.O.B. establishments.

Casual and affordable, Django offered European-based fare, with the menu driven by the season: in the summer, asparagus carbonara; over the winter, venison with foie gras-date parfait. The bistro reaped national acclaim from the New York Times (“may be the hottest ticket in town”) and the Los Angeles Times (“consistently great, right down to the desserts”).

Philadelphia Inquirer food critic Craig LaBan called it “one of the region's best restaurants, period, dollar for dollar or by any other important measure.” Django was the only BYOB ever awarded LaBan's highest rating of four bells. The rest of his pantheon were well-hyped heavy hitters: Vetri, the Fountain, Le Bec-Fin.

Alas, Django had only 38 seats and no liquor license, so profits were slim. In 2005, Sikora and Olexy sold the restaurant. Seeking a more rustic setting in which to raise their infant daughter, Annalee Talula Rae, they moved to Olexy's hometown in the Brandywine Valley.

They bought and gutted a vacant shoe store in Kennett Square, which bills itself as the mushroom capital of the world. (The town produces more than 40 percent of the nation's mushrooms.) Sikora and Olexy enlisted another CIA grad, Claire Shears, as pastry chef and cut her in on the business. Shears is the mind behind Talula's buttermilk-lemon tarts and chocolate-covered creampuffs.

Talula's opened last spring and was an immediate and unexpected sensation. The table filled up with Django groupies and epicures who had read about the place on foodie blogs.

When LaBan wrote that dinner at Talula's had been his most memorable meal of the year, the reservation line jammed. A harried Olexy came up with the current scheme. “Otherwise,” she says, “people would have booked Fridays and Saturdays 10 years into the future.” The names on Talula's waiting list take up an entire office wall.

Aside from staking out the joint, Olexy says the surest way to secure a table in 2009 is to call Talula's the moment it opens. There is a little-known second option. Twice a week, Olexy seats parties of two to four in the kitchen at Talula's invitation-only chef's table. Crafty out-of-towners might consider overnighting a set of bootleg Dead CDs - along with a subtle reservation request.